Saturday, June 24, 2006

Flashback: The Beatles begin final tour

It was 40 years ago today (June 24th, 1966), that the Beatles kicked off their final tour, in Munich, West Germany. The tour, which saw the group performing in Germany, Japan, the Philippines, and the U.S., was plagued with controversy. In the Philippines, the Beatles, who had politely declined an invitation to attend a banquet with then-President Ferdinand Marcos, were virtually run out of the country for what the Filipinos believed to be a snub towards the first family.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., trouble was brewing after a statement John Lennon had made the previous spring during a philosophical discussion about religion during an interview with The London Evening Standard was taken out of context and printed in the U.S. teen magazine Datebook. The magazine, which printed Lennon's quote that, "Christianity will go, it will vanish and shrink... Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary... We're more popular than Jesus now," ignited protests, including record burnings all over the "bible belt" and southern U.S. states.

The Fab Four held a press conference on August 11th in Chicago, the night before they started the U.S. leg, where, after trying to explain exactly what he meant in the interview, Lennon essentially apologized, not for the statement itself, but for how it may have been interpreted. Death threats plagued the Beatles throughout the 14-date U.S. leg.

Prior to the group's August 19th show in Memphis, their only show in the south, Lennon and the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein went to Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion seeking advice from Presley as to how to resolve the "bigger than Jesus" crisis. Presley, however, wasn't home that day, because he was in Los Angeles shooting a movie.

The tour dragged on through the States to less-than-sellout crowds, where the group, already long bored with performing for screaming fans, lazily ran through a set which showed no sign of the experimentation heard on their Revolver album, which was released days before the tour began.

The group performed approximately a 30-minute set every night, featuring 11 songs: "Rock And Roll Music," "She's A Woman," "If I Needed Someone," "Day Tripper," "Baby's In Black," "I Feel Fine," "Yesterday," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "Nowhere Man," "Paperback Writer," and "I'm Down."

The Fab Four did their last public performance on August 29th, 1966 at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Macca, knowing that the show was to be the Beatles' last, captured the show on a portable tape recorder, and it eventually has made the rounds of bootleg collectors. Rather than close with "I'm Down," McCartney instead launched into their longtime set closer, Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally." Afterward, George Harrison broke into a few notes of "In My Life" from the group's 1965 Rubber Soul album, and the group was whisked away in an armored truck.

Paul McCartney told us that the Fab Four always felt that quitting the road would be major turning point for the group: "I remember thinking a bit like Army buddies. One of the songs we used to love was 'Wedding Bells.' (sings song) And this idea that you'd been army buddies but one day you'd have to kiss the army goodbye and get married and act like normal people -- it was a bit like that. We knew that day would come."


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